U.N.-affiliated sustainability network to be recognized at Center for Civil, Human Rights

By Guest Columnist JENNIFER HIRSCH, co-founder of RCE Greater Atlanta, with GARRY HARRIS and SERENA NEWHALL, steering committee members of RCE Greater Atlanta.

Atlanta’s regional sustainability network, RCE Greater Atlanta, will celebrate its recognition by the United Nations University at an event hosted Wednesday by the Center for Civil and Human Rights, an RCE member organization. A program for youth leadership in sustainability is among those to be celebrated.

The event is open to the public and guests will be able to explore the center’s exhibits through the lens of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and corresponding local initiatives. In addition, guests can talk with changemakers from all sectors working to develop a sustainable Atlanta region.

Jennifer Hirsch

Jennifer Hirsch

The event also kicks off the center’s 70th anniversary celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and includes  presentations by Porsche and the Office of the Consulate General of Switzerland. A campaign, 70 Days of the UDHR, will highlight the importance of the declaration through 70 days of programming, information, and content, all leading up to the commemoration on Dec. 10 of the declaration’s 70th anniversary.

“The UDHR’s 30 articles outline the basic rights that should be afforded to all humans globally,” said Kelli Edwards, the center’s program manager. ”Working with RCE Greater Atlanta ties right into the UDHR by ensuring that the global communities we inhabit address all manner of socioeconomic issues that can and do have a profound effect on people across the world. The RCEs address issues such as poverty and education. These themes can be traced back to specific articles within the UDHR. We are most excited to host the launch and look forward to a continued partnership,”

RCE Greater Atlanta, a Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development, was founded by three institutions of higher education – Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology and Spelman College.

The U.N. acknowledgment makes our RCE one of only six in the U.S., and the only one with strong leadership and participation from a historically black college or university. We are one of 166 RCEs worldwide, coordinated through a Global RCE Network that connects us together to help create solutions to sustainability challenges through dialogue, education and learning.

RCE Greater Atlanta brings together 10 universities and colleges with nonprofit, community, government, and business partners. RCEs offer broad-based, multi-stakeholder educational and training programs that support key regional sustainable development efforts. Our members think that broad and deep collaboration among all stakeholders is key to creating a region in which humans and nature thrive.

RCE Greater Atlanta, youth tour

RCE Greater Atlanta’s Youth Network provides a tour of the Atlanta BeltLine in September. Credit: Nathan Lindsey

Our goal with this network is to create a new regional model for collective impact, by harnessing higher education capacity and knowledge for regional benefit. In this process, we intend to prepare our students to be sustainable development changemakers. Education and training programs will use the U.N.’s sustainable development goals, and those of other RCEs around the U.S. and the world, as guidance and inspiration. The plan is to ensure we are drawing from best practices and sharing our experiences to establish Atlanta as a global sustainability leader.

The SDGs were established by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015 and were designed to help further realize targets set forth by the Millennium Development Goals. The SDGs aim to achieve a more sustainable future by addressing a broad array of social and economic development issues by 2030.

The Center for Civil and Human Rights is the perfect place to introduce RCE Greater Atlanta to the public because we are approaching sustainable development largely through the lenses of equity and justice, as evidenced by the seven SDGs identified in our application as priority SDGs for the region. These include:

  • No poverty
  • Zero hunger
  • Quality education
  • Industry, innovation and infrastructure
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Climate action

The metro Atlanta region is vibrant and diverse, with the 10th largest economy in the U.S. and the largest in the Southeast. As the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement, Atlanta also has a proud history of citizen-led social activism.

National Center for Civil and Human Rights Credit: Kelly Jordan

The collaboration between the Center for Civil and Human Rights and RCE Greater Atlanta works because of the organizations’ shared interests. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Despite Atlanta’s positives, a legacy of systemic racism has created incredible disparities, which continue to persist as the region grows and develops. RCE Greater Atlanta’s priority SDGs recognize this history and highlight the importance of making equity and resilience central to sustainable development. We recognize that development cannot be sustainable if it is not equitable. We saw, and continue to see, a digital divide – and we do not want to create a region with a parallel sustainability divide.

RCE Greater Atlanta is currently engaged in a number of projects. We are especially excited about the RCE Greater Atlanta Youth Network.

“The Youth Network is a unique opportunity for students from different campuses to come together and connect over their shared passion for sustainability and the SDGs,” said Isabella Stubbs, a Tech undergraduate student and co-coordinator of RCE Greater Atlanta Youth Network.

The network is facilitating student collaboration across all university and college members, around sustainability-related professional development, volunteer opportunities, and SDG trainings. We know that youthful idealism is a powerful force for change in the world, and youth leadership in the RCE is central to successful implementation of the SDGs.

Already, students involved in the Youth Network have taught English to refugees in Clarkston; hosted UN Young Leaders for the SDGs from India and the Dominican Republic; and led a sustainability tour of the Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail. They will also play a key role at the launch party, serving as docents at each exhibit highlighting an SDG of critical importance to our region. The Youth Network is also making plans to do some joint activities with other RCEs, and one student is traveling with RCE Greater Atlanta’s delegation to present at the RCE Americas conference in October in Posadas, Argentina.

Other projects include an Environmental Justice Leadership Development Program; a K-12 Curriculum Development focused on our priority SDGs; a Sustainable Development without Displacement Training Program to equip communities to play a more active role in development processes; and an effort to work with business partners to identify areas of collaboration that will generate shared value.

“Global Goals, Local Progress” is scheduled Wednesday from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 PM. Tickets are $25.00 and can be purchased at this page on the cetner’s website.

Note to readers: Jennifer Hirsch directs Georgia Tech’s Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain and co-founded RCE Greater Atlanta; Garry Harris is managing director of the Center for Sustainable Communities and serves on RCE Greater Atlanta’s steering committee; Serena Newhall is executive director of CIFAL Atlanta at Kennesaw State University and serves on RCE Greater Atlanta’s steering committee.

Serena Newhall

Serena Newhall

Garry Harris

Garry Harris

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